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Can Pre-workout Kill You? (According to the Experts)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 21, 2022

Many first-time lifters get hyped about taking pre-workout once they start seeing results from their exercise.

Although there’s nothing wrong with taking pre-workout, I’ve seen people go through a rough time due to overdosing on it.

Since I train many young, first-time lifters, I didn’t want them to abuse pre-workout. So, I put in a couple of weeks' worth of research to study the side effects of pre-workout and see whether, in some marginal cases, it can even put your life in danger.

Quick Summary

  • Misusing or overdosing on pre-workouts could lead to harmful side effects or, in some extreme cases, even death.
  • Overdosing on pre-workout causes unpleasant side effects like vomiting, cramps, headaches, anxiety, increased blood pressure, and on rare occasions, cardiac arrest.
  • The supplement industry sells many pre-workouts that contain banned substances.

Can Pre-Workout Kill You?

A serious man holding pills

Yes, a pre-workout could potentially kill you if you are a susceptible person who overdoses on it.

Like any good thing, overuse and misuse are the reasons for the side effects or fatality.

However, the chances of this happening are extremely rare and would involve you going way over the pre-workout’s recommended dosage.

As I’ve gathered from my research, there are two ways you can fatally misuse pre-workouts: overdosing and dry scooping.

Overdosing

Most pre-workouts have labels that show you a recommended dosage and a warning not to go beyond it.

Some pre-workouts might contain too much caffeine and many other stimulants. So carelessly going way over the daily dosage could lead to adverse side effects (discussed below) or death.

According to a research study published by the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal, the upper limit of caffeine consumption is 400 mg/day for adults [1].

The average pre-workout supplement has 150–300 mg of caffeine per serving [2]. I've been around the block long enough to see people take way more than one serving. So, it’s pretty easy to overdose on it, especially among younger and more inexperienced lifters.

Dry Scooping

Scooping an amount of supplement powder

Dry scooping has become a popular trend among many lifters.

As the name suggests, dry scooping is when you consume your pre-workout as it is, without water or other liquids to wash it down.

Back in my early days, I've seen people almost choke on dry pre-workout because it blocks their throat.

I recently read a reported case of someone even succumbing to a heart attack after dry scooping [3].

While the death wasn’t a direct result of dry-scooping, I’d still highly advise you to mix your pre-workout with water so you don’t choke.

“Dry scooping pre-workout supplements is dangerous and can lead to serious health risks. I would discourage people from dry scooping pre-workout supplements.”

- Dr. Jason Nagata, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco

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What Causes the Side Effects?

A woman having a chest pain

In most cases, the side-effects of too much pre-workout are a direct result of overdosing on it, not the product itself.

So, if you’re someone who double-scoops or dry-scoops your pre-workouts, drinks coffee in the morning, and consumes energy drinks on the same day, you’re definitely pushing past the safety limit.

Let’s look at some of the symptoms of overdosing on pre-workouts.

Increased Caffeine Tolerance

Based on experience, the first couple of weeks in which you use pre-workout daily is when you’ll feel its effects the most. After that, you may develop a caffeine tolerance.

Eventually, the extra boost of energy and tingling sensation will wear off as your body gets used to the caffeine.

So, something as stimulating as a cup of coffee, let alone a regular dose of pre-workout, won’t be enough to energize you. This might tempt you to go beyond that one scoop and take higher doses of pre-workout to get the same kick.

Insomnia

A man having an insomnia

Hard to believe, but yes, pre-workouts can disturb your sleep cycle, especially if you take them in the evening or night.

Here’s why: caffeine increases the norepinephrine and epinephrine content in your body, which gives you mental alertness [4].

Since caffeine has a half-life of around 5 hours, it could take anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 hours to flush it out of your system [5].

So, if you consume pre-workout any time after the late evening, your chances of getting a good night's rest are extremely low.

Liver Damage

According to a 2021 review, overconsuming some workout supplements could adversely affect your liver function [6].

Certain pre-workouts contain around 15–25 mg of niacin, and your body can tolerate around 30–50 mg [7]. So the average pre-workout cuts it pretty close.

A niacin overdose could lead to hepatitis and liver failure [8].

Post you may like: Best Liver Detox Supplements

Frequent Urination and Dehydration

During my late teen years, I worked out with guys who went overboard with pre-workouts and noticed that they'd use the bathroom excessively in the middle of exercising. This is because caffeine is a diuretic that could cause frequent urination [9].

Too much caffeine can even cause diarrhea, leading to dehydration [10].

Headaches

A person having a headache

Caffeine in pre-workouts can lead to a headache and increases blood pressure when taken in excess.

Caffeine initially contracts your blood vessels, but the dilation after the effects wear off may cause migraines [11].

Some pre-workouts also contain L-citrulline.

This chemical converts to arginine in the body; arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide—a key player in causing migraines [12].

Adrenal Fatigue

Long-term consumption of pre-workouts can stress the adrenal glands.

The stimulants in pre-workout, such as caffeine, stimulate the nervous system to heighten mental alertness and focus during exercise by increasing adrenaline (produced by the adrenal glands).

However, consuming too much of it can overstimulate the adrenal glands and cause adrenal fatigue.

“Since these formulas are not regulated by the FDA, the manufacturers do not need to follow any federally approved guidelines on safe dosing or content. Most pre-workout mixes are known to contain more than 200 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two cups of coffee, which can improve energy levels but also increase the risk of high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and potentially a heart attack in patients with severe coronary disease.”

- Dr. Alejandro Pena Jr., MD, Cardiologist and Former Certified Personal Trainer

Some Safety Tips

Holding a supplement mixed beverage

Before you take any pre-workouts, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I researched the ingredient list and understood the benefits and downsides of each of them?
  2. Am I drinking lots of water every day?
  3. Do I get enough sleep even after consuming caffeine?
  4. Have I discussed the product with my physician?
  5. Is my pre-workout free from any ingredients that I’m allergic or sensitive to?
  6. Will taking this pre-workout exceed my daily caffeine intake?
  7. Am I susceptible to caffeine crashes and jitters?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the first four questions and ‘no’ to the last three, you may go ahead with your pre-workout.

That being said, I’d like to add this next part as a precautionary measure; If you feel the symptoms of pre-workout overdose are too strong to wait out, then you need to get it out of your system immediately.

You should do the following:

  • Induce vomiting and get it out of your system
  • Drink water
  • Eat fatty foods

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above after taking a normal dose of your pre-workout, then chuck it away. Speak to your physician and look for a product that works best for your needs.

Are There Any Safe Pre-Workout Supplements?

A man kissing a pre workout supplement container

Yes, there are safe pre-workout supplements in the market free from any banned substance.

Many pre-workouts today contain high levels of caffeine and other substances that might cause post-workout jitters.

We highly recommend high-quality pre-workout supplements that contain only natural and approved ingredients.

A natural pre-workout will contain little to no caffeine because it uses stimulant-free ingredients to boost your energy. So, you don’t have to go through caffeine crashes or any other stimulant-related side effects.

FAQs

Can Pre-Workout Give You a Heart Attack?

Yes, overdosing on pre-workout could give you a heart attack. Contact your local physician before going on any pre-workout, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

Can Pre-Workouts Give You Stroke?

Yes, studies have shown that some pre-workouts can contribute to the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions and wish to go on a pre-workout, please speak to your physician about the ingredients.

Is It Bad To Dry-Scoop Your Pre-Workout?

Yes, it is bad to dry-scoop your pre-workout. Pre-workout powder by itself can be a choking hazard.

Can I Take Pre-Workout Safely Every Day?

Yes, you can take pre-workout safely every day. But you will likely build a tolerance towards it in a few weeks, so it’s better to take it only two to three times a week.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe to Drink?

For a healthy adult, up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is safe to drink. However, if you’re pregnant or have any pre-existing medical condition, the daily amount should be less.

Will Pre-Workout Kill You?

Yes, the wrong brands and misuse of pre-workout could theoretically kill you. But pre-workouts in themselves aren’t harmful. Provided you choose the right brand, they can enhance your workouts and help you achieve your fitness goals.

Recommending the best natural pre-workouts to my clients is always a top priority for me. By consuming only natural products, they can achieve their fitness goals without the side effects of banned ingredients.

Check out our list of pre-workouts we tried and tested ourselves to find what works best for you.


References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027869151730170
  2. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/health-benefits-pre-workout-supplements
  3. https://nypost.com/2021/06/03/onlyfans-star-has-heart-attack-from-dry-scooping-tiktok-trend/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8964766/
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321784
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32702243/
  7. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-HealthProfessional/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548176/
  9. https://www.webmd.com/urinary-incontinence-oab/news/20100930/caffeine-and-bladder-problems-linked
  10. https://iffgd.org/gi-disorders/diarrhea/common-causes/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662597/
  12. https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1007/s101940070036

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